June 12: Nigerians have never been given the opportunity to say whether they want to belong to Nigeria or not —Ayo Opadokun, NADECO spokesman
The spokesman of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Ayo Opadokun, in this interview by OLAWALE OLANIYAN and KUNLE AGBOOLA, speaks on MKO Abiola’s plan to save Nigeria, the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the state of the nation.
You were the secretary of NADECO during the regime of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. Where did you get the courage to tackle that regime?
Not only was I the secretary of NADECO, I was also the organisation’s spokesman. Now, you are perhaps asking me to blow my own trumpet which I am not prepared to do. But it has to be stated that by the special grace of God, the initiative for the formation of what eventually became NADECO did not happen behind my back. It happened as a result of the understanding that if we allowed General Ibrahim Babangida to get away with the annulment (of June 12, 1993 presidential election), this generation and generations yet unborn would accuse us of inaction, of subservience. They would not look kindly on those of us who were used by God to get Chief MKO Abiola nominated by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), to get him elected and he became the president-elect. So, if the military, in their utter contempt for the popular will of the Nigerian people, decided to annul a free, pan-Nigeria mandate that was given to Chief MKO Abiola, it must happen in the life of a nation where some elements with public goodwill will rise up to the occasion. And that was what was on my mind when I accepted the challenge.
I knew that to be the general secretary and the spokesman of NADECO was the riskiest business in town as of that time. I knew it could lead to so many things, including pain, which I suffered. It could have led to my assassination. It was in defence of the Nigerian people that I was ready to face whatever was going to be the hazard of that appointment, and that was what kept me going.
I sacrificed everything so much that when others were finding their ways out of the country, I thought that it was suicidal. It would not present us as men and women of any high value and credibility if I were to flee as the general secretary and spokesman (of NADECO). Other people could do so but I stayed here in spite of the risk.
But the fact of the matter is that I knew that my cause was just and right and the defence of the people’s fundamental right to choose anyone they favoured to govern them for a period of time was legal and should not be subverted by anybody, not even the military junta led by General Babangida.
What was the scariest of all the experiences you had during that period?
There are quite a number of them. Once, after about 24 days of interrogation at the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS) on Awolowo Road, here in Lagos, one early morning, they said I should come and collect my personal effects. It was when we got out that I found out that the late Baba Omojola had also been in detention. I saw him outside and I saw the late Kojo Agamane, president of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). I did not know he was in their custody. I saw the two of them outside. I was then ushered into a brand new Peugeot 505 and we were driven out of the office of the SSS. It was when we got to a location after the Obalende flyover that I realised that they were taking us to the airport. When we got to the airport, they packed us into the presidential lounge area. After 16 minutes at the lounge, we were led into an aircraft. Then I heard the captain say he was bringing ‘these civil rights leaders who will not allow the country to rest’. They took us to Abuja.
The first thing I noticed on the aircraft after we were airborne was that they would not even allow any of the three of us to sit by the window. It had to be one SSS operative by the window and we were on the edge. Then I thought to myself: is it imaginable to these people that we could just break the glass window and jump out of the aircraft? That aircraft was the one that crashed about five months later and killed Abacha’s first son and his girlfriends. I took mental notice of the registration number of that aircraft. It was in Kano Central Prison that I learned that it was that aircraft that fell from the sky. It was a scary moment for me because I wondered that the aircraft could have crashed while I was on board.
Because I was suspicious that I could be eliminated, during the first 33 days at the SSS headquarters annex in Abuja, I did not take any food provided by them. I refused each time they offered. I told them not to worry. I always asked one of the junior officials there to buy me tea and banana. That was what I lived on for those 33 days before they moved me to Kano Central Prison.
Twenty-two years after the exit of the military, what do you make of democracy and the lot of the Nigerian people?
I say this without any fear of contradiction: not only am I dissatisfied, I am disgusted. It is a great disappointment. This is not what those of us who laid down our lives for the resurrection of democracy thought we were going to have if we succeeded in sending the military back to the barracks. We thought that those who would have anything to do with governance thereafter would be mindful of the fact that Nigeria was underdeveloped. The military who staged a violent insurrection on January 15, 1966 had held us down. I had thought that with their exit, Nigeria would now have a chance to restart, but what have we found? Twenty-two years later, the situation has gotten worse. Nigeria’s education is one of the worst in Africa. I am not even comparing it to Europe. Any country that devalues education already knows its own future, because education is the bedrock of progress and development.
Here is a country where in the First Republic, the first three premiers, Sir Ahmadu Bello (the Sardauna of Sokoto, Northern Region), Chief Michael Okpara (Eastern Region) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Western Region), provided to the people services commensurate with the resources available in their regions. For example, Chief Awolowo used the resources of the Western Region to develop the region such that the region compared to some of the western countries of the world. The idea of free education was novel in this part of the world. Chief Awolowo gave that to the people after a painstaking preparation. In 1959, Chief Awolowo inaugurated the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), the first television in the entire Tropical Africa.
Did you know that the farm settlement that the Action Group government established had a sufficient number of cows that produced milk for people of the Western Region. There was food surplus because people recognised agriculture for what it was. Agriculture remained the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. It contributed to the economy more than crude oil.
We thought that we would have a return to the path of sanity; that economic and political policies would be geared towards the uplift of the people from extreme poverty but it is getting worse by the day, not to talk of the other frightening things that have been happening to us for the past four-five years.
It is true that it was during Olusegun Obasanjo’s time (as president) that 12 states in the North decided to establish Sharia which was in utter violation of the discredited 1999 Constitution. Its article says: “This constitution is supreme, that is to say that no other constitution ought to exist side-by-side with the 1999 Constitution but 12 states in the North established Sharia. But what Obasanjo told us then was that it was a political Sharia. It has not faded out and that is what graduated to the founding of Boko Haram. According to all information, a governor then armed young men to fight his political battle and after he won, he did not see them as useful any longer; he was no longer providing succour for the young men and so they took up arms and by the time knew it, it was too late. Even the security services then, around 2005, arrested Mohammed (Yusuf), the founder of that terrorist organisation. Two times they arrested him and brought him to Abuja. Some people blackmailed Obasanjo; they said it was senior Christian officers among his intelligence people that arrested him and so they released him.
And when the guy took up the gun late and there was nothing they could do again, the military had to come in and arrest him. He and his people were handed over to the police. The Nigeria Police have yet to tell us why they killed him. But they executed him because he was going to reveal the truth.
What has happened in this country in the last five years amounts to the government failing to provide the most fundamental thing for the people: security of life and property. When President Buhari was campaigning, he told Nigerians that he was going to do three things: secure the country, revamp the economy and fight corruption. He said he would secure the country. We had thought that as a military man, he would be able to do that. He said there was nothing to Boko Haram; that it would be over within a short period. He said he would restore the economy but our economy is now worse than it was when he took over. They keep on making excuses.
What have they done with the fight against corruption? In fact, they have lost it (the fight). The expectation of people like me who trusted Buhari was that he would be able to fight corruption to a standstill. We are disappointed. What is more worrisome, still, in their performance is the fact that non-state actors have virtually taken over the Nigerian state. They are much more dominant now, much more superior in their ammunition over and above the state security agencies and they unleash terror on both soft and hard targets. They have been targeting the military and civilians and nobody is safe anymore.
Above all, the so-called herdsmen, there have been no reports of any herdsmen or bandits arrested and prosecuted to deter them from engaging in dastardly businesses. Perhaps they have been encouraged by the Nigerian state because the manner in which they have been going around setting fire to the homes of the people is worrisome. The Nigerian government has been reported several times by the media to have paid ransom in various instances of kidnapping. Why is it that the Nigerian state has not been able to use all the intelligence instruments that are available globally to capture those people in the process of collecting ransom?
If MKO Abiola had become the president, do you think Nigerians would have fared better?
The title of Abiola’s manifesto was ‘Farewell to Poverty’. I partook in getting that document ready because I was the one whom he asked to do a draft for him to Professor Sam Aluko who wrote the substantial part of the manifesto. I was the one who was given the mandate to hand over the letter from him to Professor Aluko. I know that Abiola would have changed the Nigeria narrative if he had been allowed to govern as Nigerians expected him to, because he had tasted poverty in its raw form.
Who are those people you think killed MKO Abiola?
Well, people like me are not in a position to say for certain who killed him. Because of the local and international pressure mounted for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, the United Nations, African Union and ECOWAS were considering so many possibilities as the way out. Susan Rice, who was the United States Ambassador to the UN as of that time, recapitulated about three months ago: it was during their visit that Chief MKO Abiola was offered tea, and after taking that drink, the man had a heart attack. So, take a look at what can be regarded as the sequence. I said at the first MKO Abiola lecture at LTV 8 hall that it was not accidental that Sani Abacha died the way he died and a month after, MKO Abiola had to be sacrificed to balance things up.
It was very unfortunate because we had insisted and MKO Abiola had insisted on his mandate and when those of us at the leadership of NADECO were asked to advise him to the contrary, we told them that they considered the black man as an inferior specimen to human race and that was why they did not want us to have democracy in truth and in fact. What they wanted us to have was a hybrid of dictatorship and democracy.
I asked an official at the United States Embassy here in Lagos at that time: ‘in what circumstance will it happen in your country that a man who won a landmark election like Abiola would be asked not to claim his right to govern but asked to forsake that right in the interest of peace?’ What peace? It must be peace of the graveyard.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused of nepotism. If you were to advise him on this, what would you tell him?
I don’t know whether I have anything new to say to him. I have said openly to him in critical moments that his conduct was unbecoming; that he was violating the provisions of the doubtful, unacceptable but imposed 1999 Constitution.
Chapter 2 of the constitution deals with the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy. Section 14 Sub-section 3, to paraphrase it, says: ‘The President shall appoint at least one minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state’. In President Buhari’s cabinet, Bashir Magashi from Kano State is the Minister of Defebce. The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, is from Borno State. The director of the State Security Service is also from Kano. The Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, is from the North. The Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, is one of them. The Chief of Army Staff, Farouk Yahaya, is also from Sokoto State. When Dambazau was the Minister of Interior, I said: ‘Each time you say you are holding the National Security Council meeting, it is the Northern Security Council meeting you are holding, not the Nigerian security council meeting, because Northerners have dominated everything’. Most of them are from the North West and North East. What Buhari was saying to other Nigerians was that they didn’t matter. He has sustained this practice up to today. That is to say that all those people can be trusted, and others cannot. So, why should Nigerians trust him as their head of state?
Buhari has not impressed people like us who fought to promote his emergence as president. We thought that he was fair-minded but he has exhibited an unbelievable amount of sectionalism and he cannot care less. Every key office is headed by a Northerner. People like us are not surprised because Nigeria had fallen into the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and one of the critical requirements of your full membership is that critical offices must be headed by Muslims. He exposed himself a long time ago. During the 2001 crisis between Yoruba and Fulani people in Oyo North, he came suing for peace. When he led his team to the then governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina, he was the patron of Miyetti Allah. See what Miyetti Allah has been doing to other ethnic groups in Nigeria. There has not been one day that President Buhari has imagined that Miyetti Allah has done any wrong against any of us. It is unfortunate.
Insecurity is a major problem in Nigeria today. What would you recommend as the solution?
I am not sure that you can fix the problem until and unless President Buhari changes course by stopping playing ostrich. Nigeria must return to federal constitutional governance. Nigeria’s security is dependent on federal constitutional governance. Nigeria has been lying to itself and to the whole world because it is being run unitarily centrally and this is against all rational thinking. It is against reasonable political thinking because Nigeria is a heterogeneous society composed of over 350 ethnic groups with different languages, religions, customs, folk laws, morals and traditions.
I don’t know whether you people do some arithmetic but by the time President Buhari finishes his term, if we are still alive, that is, in 2023, it will mean that the military, in full-blown regimes, in their first term, spent 13 years and in the second, they spent 15 years. That makes it 28 years of full-blown military era. But the military in agbada, that is, Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years and Buhari’s eight years, makes it 16 years plus 28 years, which will be 44 years out of the 61 years of post-independence Nigeria. So, they have dominated everything about Nigeria. Nigeria has no value system; anything goes in our country. The military had brought a culture that emphasises the use of force to take what does not belong to you and retain it permanently. Tell me if the richest person in Nigeria today is not a military man or a man made by the military.
There are two nationalist groups in Yorubaland, that for restructuring and the more radical one moving for the creation of Oduduwa Republic. Where do you belong?
What a question? This is not a forum where I want to do an intellectual analysis of the two sides. It will be sufficient for me to tell you straight away that since May 1994 when NADECO was presented to the public, we have said that the convocation of sovereign national conference where national questions will be answered should be the business of any government. And the national question is: do you want to belong to Nigeria? Nigerians have not been given the opportunity to say whether they want to belong to Nigeria or not. The British colonial masters came with their superior gunpowder to force us into cohabitation. And when they were going, they did the evil things that they did in many other places. The military that took over through deception, sheer ignorance and collaboration of their military sympathisers and supporters, have not given Nigerians the opportunity to take a decision.
The follow-up question will be: on what terms do we want to belong to Nigeria if we do want to belong to Nigeria? Through give-and-take. This is how we want you to govern, then we agree. So, in the situation that we are in today, the better of the two that you have presented to me is that Nigeria should go back to the 1963 Constitution, which is just an improved version of the independence constitution, which was a federalist constitution. When we have that, all the amendments that are necessary because of what the military have done could be incorporated.
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